BOSTON -- The growth in Marcus Smart’s game defensively has been undeniable, earning him the status of being one of the NBA’s premier defenders.
But this season, it seems Smart has taken his defense -- and in doing so, the Celtics -- to another level.
Smart's elevated defensive play was on display in Boston’s 116-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks, a game in which Smart matched up at times with Luke Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, who are taller than Smart by four and 10 inches, respectively.
Despite the height disadvantage, Smart was equally up to the test limiting both players under his watch.
Doncic led all scorers with 32 points while shooting an efficient 11-for-21 from the field.
While guarded by Smart, however, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year had just two points while missing four of his five shot attempts.
The struggles were even more pronounced for Porzingis, who missed all three of his shot attempts with Smart defending him.
Coming into Monday’s game, players defended by Smart who are 6-foot-8 and taller shot 40.7 percent on a combined 11-for-27 from the field.
Take out Kevin Love's 4-for-8 performance against Smart last week, and the remaining 30 players he has defended who are 6-foot-8 or taller are a combined 7-for-19 (36.8 percent).
Defending taller defenders is something Smart embraces.
“I love it,” Smart said. “It’s a challenge that I love every time I get the call. I pride myself on the defensive end. That’s where I earn my keep. Matched up against those guys, I never think of it as a disadvantage for me. I think it’s an advantage for me on both ends.”
In addition to his strong play defensively, Smart is also averaging a career-high 11.1 points per game this season while shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range -- also a career high.
Smart obviously is looking to score more going forward, but he remains focused on defense, something he has been really good at for a long time.
And this season, he appears to be even better, which is why Smart has a simple message for teams looking to create what they believe are mismatches that force Smart to guard bigger players.
“Keep it coming," Smart said. “Plain and simple, keep it coming."
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